As a certified personal trainer and health coach, the topic of food as medicine has always interested me. However, this has become even more poignant for me following my cancer diagnosis and treatment. There is so much research (going back decades!) showing how there is a direct correlation between our diets and disease, yet unfortunately, this is something that is often addressed almost as an afterthought by our medical teams.
What Does Food as Medicine Mean?
The food that we put into our bodies has a direct impact on our health, and so it should be considered as important as medicine.
A quick Google search will lead you to many scientific studies concluding the positive and negative impacts of certain foods on our bodies. Research has proven the direct relationship between certain foods and diseases such as heart conditions, diabetes, and chronic inflammation (a risk factor for cancer). Sadly, many of the foods and drinks popular in our society’s diet have harmful impacts on our health. For instance, there is a direct link between alcohol consumption and cancer, yet most people are completely unaware of this fact!
The American Heart Association has even released a Food Is Medicine Initiative recently, advising the public on the importance of a more holistic approach to diet and health within our healthcare system. The initiative advocates for more access to this vital nutrition information - for all socioeconomic groups - from our healthcare professionals.
So, what are some foods that do have a positive impact on our health?
Foods high in fiber - Such as certain vegetables, beans, legumes, and grains. Fiber has been shown to decrease disease risk, decrease inflammation, as well as boost your immune system
Foods high in antioxidants - Leafy greens and berries have been shown to reduce disease risk including cancer
Amino acids (found in proteins) are immune-boosting
Healthy fats - Omega-3 fatty acids, found in foods such as salmon, olive oil, and avocados are anti-inflammatory and have been shown to support immune health and prevent disease including cardiovascular
Spices - Certain spices, such as turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon are known to be anti-inflammatory
Generally, maintaining a diet that is rich in these foods is a good rule of thumb. Plant-based and whole food-focused diets, including the Mediterranean diet, are all beneficial in preventing chronic inflammation and disease risk.
Food as Medicine for Cancer Patients
As the American Heart Association is suggesting with their public health initiative, nutrition counseling should be a regular part of our healthcare system. This is beneficial not only in disease prevention but also while experiencing a serious diagnosis such as cancer, diabetes, or heart disease.
With cancer treatment (and survivorship) specifically, nutrition counseling can aid with the changes to appetite and taste that patients often experience. Professionals can suggest foods to help fuel the body while experiencing a loss of appetite, as well as ways to cope with altered taste buds. Additionally, incorporating lots of the foods listed above is helpful in the prevention of recurrence.
Foods with Medicinal Qualities Shouldn’t Replace Prescribed Treatment
The notion of food as medicine is not intended to replace prescribed medications or treatment. Rather, we are advocating for the incorporation of dietary counseling along with prescribed treatment plans, in order to to provide a more holistic approach to care.
Nutritional Guidance and Counseling
As a certified personal trainer and health coach, I provide clients who are undergoing cancer treatment or in survivorship with nutritional guidance to help boost the immune system and optimize their health. If you are on this journey and looking for guidance or support, I encourage you to reach out to me today!